Common sense and discretion are always the best guides to proper funeral etiquette. However there are a few principles which do apply. The death of a loved one leaves us feeling lost and not sure what to do. Your first reaction may be to help, but you may not be sure what to say. This section of our web site has been designed to offer some suggestions, which you may find helpful. We hope it will give you some insight on how you can be of comfort to the bereaved
When should I visit?
While you may feel hesitant and uncomfortable about intruding on the family during their grief, it is important for intimate friends of the bereaving family to visit the family’s home to offer sympathy and help. This helps to assure the family that while their loved one is gone, they are not alone. While they are suffering a great loss, they are still connected to the living. The bereaving family has to take care of funeral arrangements, and a close friend(s) may be very helpful with childcare and food preparation. You may visit any time within the first few weeks of death. Additional visits are usually welcome, depending upon the circumstances and your relationship with the family.
In addition to expressing sympathy it is acceptable, if you wish, to share with the family your memories of the deceased. Family members may simply want you to listen to their expressions of sorrow or memories of their loved one. You may prefer to visit the family at the funeral home. This setting may be more comfortable for you and the family, as they are prepared for visitors.
Other Expressions of Sympathy
While there is no substitute for a personal visit if you are able to do so, there are many other ways to express your sympathy.
Flowers can be a great comfort to the family and may be sent to the funeral home or to the residence. If sent to the residence, a plant or a small vase of flowers is recommended showing a person’s continued sympathy for the family. The florist places an identification card on the floral tribute. If the family asks that donations should be made in lieu of flowers, you should honor that request.
- Memorial Gifts
A memorial gift is always appropriate, especially when the family has requested such a gift in lieu of flowers. Usually the family will designate a specific organization or charity. Remember to provide the family’s name and address to the charity so they can send proper notification. It is acceptable to mention your gift in a sympathy note without mentioning the amount of the gift.
- Phone Calls
If you live out of town you should telephone to offer your sympathy. Keep the call brief, since others will be trying to call as well. Remember to call after the funeral as well. Just a short phone call to let the bereaved know they are still in your thoughts and prayers will mean so much.
- Food for the Family
A welcomed gift is food. There may be family from out of town or other visitors in the house who need to be fed. During the days immediately following the death, dishes that require little preparation other than reheating are appropriate.
- Mass Cards
Mass cards can be sent either by Catholic or non-Catholic friends, instead of or in addition to flowers. The offering of prayers is a valued expression of sympathy to a Catholic family. It can also be a loving tribute to arrange a mass on the anniversary of the death.
- E-mail/Sign the Online Guestbook
Sending an email or signing the online guestbook is also an acceptable way to send a message of sympathy and/or to share a story with the family about their loved one. The family will appreciate your message of care and concern.
Whether or not you arrange for a gift, a note or card to the deceased’s family expressing your thoughts of that person is a welcome gesture, especially if you weren’t able to attend the funeral.
Visitation at the Funeral Home
The funeral is a ceremony of proven worth and value for those who mourn. It provides an opportunity for the survivors and others who share in the loss to express their love, respect, grief and appreciation for a life that has been lived. Through the funeral the bereaved take that first step toward emotional adjustment to their loss.
A formal visitation provides a time and place for friends to offer their expressions of sorrow and sympathy. The obituary should tell you the visitation hours and when the family will be present, or you may call the funeral home for this information or visit our website.
When you arrive, approach the family, and express your sympathy with an embrace or by offering your hands. Don’t feel as though you must avoid talking about the person who has died. Talking can help the grieving process begin. If you were an acquaintance of the deceased but not well-known to the family, immediately introduce yourself. Do not feel uncomfortable if you or the family member becomes emotional or begins to cry. Allowing the family to grieve is a natural healing process. However, if you find yourself becoming extremely upset, it would be kind to excuse yourself.
Many times the family will be in a receiving line near the casket. Viewing the deceased is not mandatory. However, if offered by the family, it is customary to show your respect by viewing the deceased, and, if you desire, spending a few moments in silent prayer. If a kneeling bench is placed in front of the casket, you may kneel and say a prayer. If you do not wish to kneel, you may stand in front of the casket for a moment. Always sign your name in the register book. If you were a business associate of the deceased, it is appropriate to note your company affiliation if the family may not otherwise know you.
What should I say?
Using your own words, express your sympathy. Kind words about the person who has died are always appropriate. If the family wants to talk, they usually simply need to express their feelings. They are not necessarily looking for a response from you. What you say depends entirely upon your relationship with the deceased and their family. If the deceased is an acquaintance or casual friend, saying “I’m sorry,” “He was a wonderful person and a friend of mine. He will be missed,” “My sympathy to you and your family,” or something similar is appropriate. However, if you were closer to the family you may want to ask if there is anything you can do to help, or express your feelings about the deceased. You should not ask the family for details about the illness or death.
How long should I stay at a visitation?
Your simple presence will mean a lot to the family. It is only necessary to stay for a short time; Enough time to express your sympathy. You do not need to stay for the entire visitation, but try not to leave during any prayers or services that might be offered.
Children at Funerals
Children have an awareness of death at a very early age. Adults often fear what children will think or how they will react to death much more than a child ever does. Since the funeral of someone loved is a significant event, children should have the same opportunity to attend as any other member of the family. Children trust and look for guidance from their family. Explain the purpose of the funeral: a time of honoring the person who has died; a time to help, comfort and support each other; and a time to affirm that life goes on. Viewing the body of someone loved who has died can also be a positive experience. It provides an opportunity to say goodbye and helps children accept the reality of the death. Bringing children to the funeral home and forcing them to sit in another room instead of going with their family is not productive or healthy for the child. Grief is complex. It will vary from child to child just as it does from adult to adult. Caring adults need to communicate to children that this feeling is not one to be ashamed of or something to hide. Instead, grief is a natural expression of love for the person who has died. Don’t avoid allowing them to attend the service. Children have strong emotions too and those emotions should be expressed. Allow them to ask questions, and give them answers in clear and simple terms. Do not refer to death as being like sleep as that confuses children about death being permanent.
The Funeral Service
The funeral is a ceremony of value for those left behind who mourn. It provides the survivors and others who share in the loss a chance to express their love, respect, grief and appreciation for the life their loved one has lived. The funeral also provides the necessary first step towards healing. The family will determine the type of service that will be conducted for the deceased. Bob, Catherine and Jake are trained to assist families in arranging whatever type of service they desire. Funeral services differ depending upon the religious and personal beliefs of the family. Services can be held either at a place of worship or at the funeral home. Regardless of where the funeral service is held, Bob, Catherine or Jake will help you to your seat. The first few rows are usually reserved for family members. Guests should sit close behind them to give comfort and support. A member of the clergy usually conducts the ceremony, but the family may invite others to offer thoughts, anecdotes or eulogies. At the conclusion of the service, Bob, Catherine and Jake will give you instructions for preparation to go to the cemetery.
Friends and relatives will form a procession that begins at the funeral home, place of worship or where ever the service took place. Remember to turn your headlights and four way flashers on so you can be identified as being a part of the procession. Also, remember to turn your headlights and flashers off once you arrive at the cemetery.
What Happens At The Cemetery?
The casket is normally placed beside the grave. People then gather around the casket to listen to the rites of burial given by the clergy. The clergy or funeral director will dismiss the family as well as the friends at the end of the service.
Should I Attend the Services?
Unless the obituary states that “services will be held at the convenience of the family” or “private services will be held,” family and friends are welcome to attend the services. In other words, if the location and time of the services are included in the obituary notice, it is considered an invitation to attend.
What Should I Wear to the Funeral?
In this day and age funeral dress codes have relaxed quite a bit. Black dress is no longer required. Wearing colorful clothing is no longer considered inappropriate for family or friends. Persons attending a funeral should be dressed in good taste so as to show dignity and respect for the family and the occasion.
Immediately Following the Funeral
Immediately after the funeral the family will sometimes invite the attendees to join them for food or a reception at their home or a designated place. This gives everyone a chance to talk and provides some time to relax and refresh. Sometimes friends or church members will prepare food ahead of time for this gathering, and relieve the family of this task.
What can I do to help later?
After the funeral service is over, the surviving family members often feel very alone in dealing and coping with their feelings. After the difficult and busy days surrounding the death, the family is faced with the challenge of trying to resume their day to day lives. Remembering the family during this time often is critical in their recovery. It is important that they know you are still there. Keep in touch. Continue to include them in your social plans. They will let you know when they are ready to participate. It is also nice to remember the family on special occasions during the first year following the death. Don’t worry about bringing up the pain and emotion of the loss; they are well aware of that. By remembering such occasions as wedding anniversaries and birthdays, you are not remembering the death but reaffirming that a life was lived.
What do I say when I see the family in public?
What you say depends on if you’ve already had contact with them. If you attended the visitation or funeral, a warm greeting or a gentle expression of concern would be appropriate. If this is your first meeting with them since the death, you might carefully express your sympathy. Perhaps by saying that you understand that this is a difficult time for them, you can express your concern without causing the bereaved to feel uncomfortable in this public setting. You might even ask when it would be a good time to visit or go to lunch or dinner.
Sympathy, Expressions and Acknowledgments
The family should acknowledge the flowers and messages sent by relatives and friends. When food and/or personal services are donated, such as childcare, these thoughtful acts also should be acknowledged. So should the services of the pallbearers. Thank you cards or acknowledgement cards should include a short written personal note when the giver is well known by the family. Express appreciation for a contribution or personal service received. The note can be short, such as: “Thank you for the beautiful lilies. The arrangement was lovely.” “The food you sent was enjoyed very much by our family. Your kindness is deeply appreciated.”